District Six Museum chairperson Judge Siraj Desai. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - A battle is brewing over prime District Six land near the historic Trafalgar High School.

The land, the size of three rugby fields, was leased by the City of Cape Town to the school in 2016 for R300 a year. However, the District Six Museum said they and other stakeholders were never consulted about the lease.

The SA Geographic Place Names Council will this week rule on an application by the District Six Museum to rename the area back to District Six.

The campaign to rename the area closed on Friday.

City of Cape Town spokesperson, Luthando Tyhalibongo, said the city council’s property management department received an application to lease the property at the Holy Cross Primary School in Zonnebloem, for playground purposes as well as to increase security.

“The land vests with the Land Claims Commissioner, therefore, the City cannot transact without their consent. We have been advised that the Office of the Regional Land Claims Commissioner: Western Cape, has not been able to respond to our request as yet. Our request was referred to the District Six Reference Group for consideration,” he said.

Weekend Argus has confirmed with the previous school principal, Nadeem Hendricks, that a lease was signed and is up for review towards the end of this year.

Hendricks said during 1993-1994, the school received a letter from the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) saying that it intends to transfer the land opposite the school to the school, to be used as a park and or sporting facility.

WCED spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond said in an email: “The correspondence on file only goes back to 2011. We did, however track correspondence, that the school was informed not to pursue the matter as this property belongs to the Department of Public Works. This was done post-2014”.

The agreement was only taken up in 2005 again when Hendricks became principal.

“The school only used the park area. The rest of the land was totally unusable. The land was occupied by vagrants and squatters,” said Hendricks.

The rest of the land consisted of mainly rubble heaps from when houses were demolished in the area. He said that the plan was that the land would be incorporated into the school grounds.

“I was wearing two hats at the time, one as a principal wanting sports grounds for his learners and my second cap was that of a member of the District Six Working Committee.

“In fact, I was the one that pointed out that no land in the District Six area could be leased or transferred without consultation with the land claimants and other stakeholders,” said Hendricks.

He said in 2016, the City wrote a letter to the school asking if the school was interested in leasing the land, the school said yes and a three-year lease was entered into.

“I am not sure if the City consulted the land claimants about the lease.

“The land is in custodianship of the City. All land must be given in consultation with the claimants. If I think back now, the City should never have given the lease to the school without consulting all the relevant stakeholders.

“I was in favour at the time as the pupils needed a sporting facility but I was also aware of the sensitivity of the land issues in the area at the time,” added Hendricks.

“District Six has a history signifying that people can live together. There was no economic apartheid in District Six.

“Muslims, Christians, Jews, blacks, whites and coloureds lived together.

“The name District Six brings back a certain memory for the people. People didn’t come from Zonnebloem, they came from District Six,” said Hendricks.

Chairperson of the District Six Museum, Judge Siraj Desai said decisions around leasing the land can only be made once the restitution process has been completed in the area.

“Future leases can only be determined in the course of that process.

“The City should know unequivocally that it cannot lease or transfer any land in the area without proper consultation.”

Desai was adamant that any development in the area must form part of an integrated process to afford restitution to District Six claimants and that housing should be given first priority.

Current principal Salwa Southgate, said the school’s governing body would review a possible future lease of the land.

Weekend Argus